On March 12th, PYD began its #IAMPYD campaign by bringing our traveling canvass to Access To Theatre, PYD’s theater arts program for teens and young adults. Participants added their art to the canvas, expressing why they are involved and what they like most about PYD. The canvas is currently filled with a rocket ship, flowers, and other colorful drawings, including proud declarations of personal identities and why PYD is important to them.
Thanks to Mary Grace, Jackie, Juan, and Olivia of the Boston University PRLab, three peer leaders shared their experiences and how PYD has impacted their lives. The following are excerpts and photos from the interviews and the young artists’ process.
“I like being a peer leader for Access To Theatre and Making Healthy Connections because I enjoy expressing my individuality through theater and having fun! I love it because it is a space where I don’t get judged.” – Lizzie Gray
“My favorite thing about being a peer leader is being with my PYD family and those that I love the most. I also like helping others” – Josh Jones
“Partners for Youth with Disabilities has helped me be a better human being. It helps me be more independent as a man and it teaches me about social skills, and how to be ready for the world. In my personal life, it helps me be prepared for anything, because it unlocks that [treasure box] of opportunities and it helps me express who I am as an individual. It helps me learn more about myself and learn new things about different people. Everyone has a story and you never what they are going through unless you sit with them and learn their story. PYD has helped me with that. I’ve been involved for nine years now. I love PYD and thank them for doing that. If PYD didn’t exist I wouldn’t have learned to be as sharp, strong, independent, and intelligent, and I woudn’t have learned all these acting and theater skills. It is so cool to express being silly, but also being artistic and consistent at the same time. Some words that describe me are fearless, risk taker, ambitious, strive for greatest, loving, loyal, dedicated to family, dedicated to my peers, dedicated to being myself, honest, caring. Anything you need I’m always there for you. That’s what describes me.” – DJ Robinson
Join us at the Party for PYD on May 18th to hear DJ perform an original rap!
We’d like to thank Blick art for the kind donation of the canvas.
During the Peer Leader training for the Youth Leadership Forum, Kristin Humphrey introduced our group what a “Zine” is. They are described as being self-published works of art that can focus on any topic of interest, whether it’s sports, LGBTQ rights, cartoons, or any other topic in-between. She asked our group of peer leaders to create our very own zines with a whole table of supplies at our disposal: scissors, glue sticks, colored pencils, paper, magazines, etc., to help us self-express.
After exploring the magazines, I carefully picked out many images of what I wanted my zine to be. This was the end result:
When I joined the Mentor Match program, I didn’t know quite how it would go at first. At the time, I was getting involved with various social development programs because my school system, Lexington Public Schools, was having a very hard time providing me with services so that I could learn how to do certain daily tasks, such as managing my time with homework on my own. Having a mentor wasn’t anywhere within my immediate plans; all I wanted to do was get by high school, make friends, and graduate. That was it. Unfortunately, I didn’t yet have the skills/tools to achieve those goals on my own, so I was open to getting some help from a mentor.
One day, I met with Kristin Humphrey at my house to discuss what kind of a person I would look for in a match. I thought about the many kinds of people in my life, and who I was able to connect with the best. I listed mostly women, as I felt a woman mentor would be able to listen to what I have to say, but also able to give me their input and help talk out certain situations with me.
Around December 2011, on one of the snowiest days you can imagine (well, except for winter 2015), I met with Kristin and my new mentor, Cassie, at the Boys and Girls Club in Arlington.
Cassie and I regularly met from around January until sometime early June, and to my surprise, talking to Cassie changed more things in my life than I expected. For any teenager, time management is one of the most difficult skills to learn—but one of the most important for college and adult life. I was definitely no exception to this rule. Although I still struggle with time management, as I’m sure other adults and college students do, I learned a lot talking to Cassie about how I can structure plans with my friends, where/when to meet up with them, and when to do my homework. Talking about problems in school really helped put things into perspective so I can know how to handle a current, or even future, situation.
Cassie and I also shared stories of events in our lives and our experiences. For Cassie it was talking about college life; for me, it was sharing my interests in TV shows like Doctor Who and about my various writing projects that I was working on.
She’s shared a lot about her life and of some of the challenges she was going through when it came to transitioning from college into grad school. She told me a lot about how she’s interested in philosophy and even studying other religions. One day, about a year or two after the Mentor Match program with Cassie ended, she told me something that I seriously did not expect to hear: she was going to convert to Islam. I was very interested as to why she wanted to become a Muslim during this part of her life. From what I remember, she told me that the religion of Islam closely reflected her beliefs and she wanted to explore what the religion better reflects in her life. Since she converted, I learned a lot more about Islam than I ever had from any outside information I was studying. In 9th grade, I did learn a lot about what Muslims contributed to science, medicine, and astrology, but to actually talk to a real Muslim about issues affecting the community was very intimate.
Although our time with the program officially ended, we still see each other and communicate on a somewhat regular basis. We’re both very busy people trying to get by in school or at work, but whenever we do check in, it’s always great knowing that she’s still there for me after all this time.
The following was written during the day of Wednesday July 13th 2016, the actual third day during the Youth Leadership Forum.
It’s Day 3 at the YLF and we began the day’s activities with a Job Search and Networking Workshop presented by some of the PYD staff learning about resources to help with the job hunt and how to network.
The delegates as well as the peer leaders had the option of going to either one workshop or the other. The first workshop available was continued by the PYD staff and discussing Professional Communication and Soft Skills, or a workshop helmed by Federation For Children With Special Needs representative, Becky Rizoli involving Achieving Goals and Higher Education opportunities. I decided to go to the soft skills work shop and how to apply skills necessary to network.
Next was the big event of the day: The Career Mentor Luncheon and a brief ceremony for the Disability Hall of Fame. I would like to note that PYD’s own Nancy Bazanchuk and Regina Snowden received certificates for this high honor. Soon after, many of the career mentors introduced themselves and sat in many of the various tables around the room. Each of the peer leaders, and delegates with their appropriate work attire, received a card that had listed which table they needed to go to that was marked with a number. Each discussion lasted about 20 minutes or so and then the peer leaders and delegates had to switch to their next assigned table.
After a 15 minute break, all of the delegates met in their small groups to discuss advocacy in terms of introducing policy ideas to people involved in politics. Speaking for my purple group, during the activity we had a lot of really great ideas that the delegates contributed to the activity. My fellow Peer Leader Dustin tried very hard to make sure that we as a group were on task with what needed to be done, which was really good, but I had to communicate that everyone’s energy level was a bit low and that we needed to modify the activity just to be respectful of peoples needs. It was a challenge that Dustin, myself, and Rachel had to really overcome, but overall I thought we did as effective of a job as possible.
Next, we had an Adaptive Sports workshop hosted once again by Jeff from EPIC. The activity was that there were two separate groups on different ends of the room, with 4 pieces of tape on the floor. Each group was on an island and were given 10 “magic stones” or pieces of paper to help get across to the other side. We each had to cross the “chocolate river” and if a persons body part, like their feet, or elbows, or in some cases wheels, weren’t touching the stone, that person would be washed away and the whole group would have to start over. We as peer leaders were also given a rule as well, we were not allowed to talk to the delegates or other peer leaders to strategize. Only the delegates had to figure out how to get across. And so as far as I saw, both groups tried to strategize together and some people were more vocal than others, others were a bit more quiet, and some felt like they were put off to the side because they didn’t feel included. Both teams at some point in the game nearly made it across, but then something happened and both groups had to reset. Jeff then asked everyone to gather in a circle to talk about the activity, and he mentioned a lot of the points that I made just now, and made a very impactful point that this kind of problem does happen in other settings in life. It taught the delegates as well as the peer leaders a lesson in inclusion and how each of us can be vocal and step up, even when others can’t.
Soon after dinner, and an hour in between to get ready, was the YLF Dance! There was a DJ, a table with cookies and water, a dance floor for people to enjoy themselves, and if there were people who didn’t want to dance, they could sit back and do their own thing at some of the outside tables. The theme of this years dance that the peer leaders selected was all about “Peace” and many of the PYD staff dressed for the occasion by wearing hippie costumes as well as providing glow sticks and even rainbow heart stickers to support the LGBTQIA community. If people did not want to be at the dance, they also had the option to go into the Dunn Conference Room where Deep lead a music workshop called “The Beat Goes On” which let people play with the instruments provided for a music jam session.
Later in the night during my peer leader check in I shared about our group experience during the small group activity. I mentioned to Nancy and everyone that the delegates worked hard thinking of ideas for what they wanted to improve in their communities. In the past, we were shown the movie “The Great Fight for Disability Rights”, which was narrated by Easter Seals’ Colleen Flanagan, which gave context about disability advocacy history and how our voices as people with disabilities need to be heard. I learned that several groups had very successful conversations for the policy activity.
8:00am, Yesterday, July 12th, was the first day the delegates would come in and get acclimated into the YLF setting to meet with each of the groups and get introduced to the program and week activities. We began by gathering in our small groups and doing ice breakers to get to know the delegates, where they came from, and if they wanted to, share why they came to YLF. Some expressed interest in making new friends, others about getting experience and so forth. After that, we went into the Dunn Conference Room for our welcome reception which consisted of Massachusetts Rehab Comissioner Osborne, PYD’s Executive Director Regina Snowden, and New Easter Seals President and CEO Paul Medeiros to introduce the Youth Leadership Forum to the delegates.
After gathering for this years group photo, Jeff Lafata of EPIC lead a workshop on ableism similar to when the peer leaders did his workshop yesterday. This activity was different, as each of us had to hold 7 note cards, on each card was a specific identity that you have, he asked us for our full legal name, gender, sexual preference, religion, disability, and what a goal in our life would be. Jeff one by one would tell people to give up a card that you could live with out until only one remained. For myself, the only card that was left was my name. I explained to my group the reason was because with all the identities that I discarded, they could be applied or identified by any single one person, but without my name to symbolize this is how I identify, those cards mean nothing. It was a very powerful exercise about identity and how we are all on different journeys, but here together to overcome many obstacles.
Next was the assistive technology workshop which featured many of the Easter Seals staff, including Desi Forte and a technology specialist named Flemings, about how to use apps on our smart devices in order to find better accommodation uses to make our lives easier. Flemings’ presentation was about the Amazon Echo as well as an assistive technology designed game controller called the SharpEdge so that people with mobility issues can play video games. This soon transitioned into a game of Jeopardy quizzing each group about what they learned with the information of assistive technology.
Transitioning from that was a workshop run by Access To Theatre’s Movement Director, Maureen (Moe) Finnerty. She lead a workshop of theater-based games that are traditionally used in the program to demonstrate to the delegates how we can communicate by expressing ourselves. It was classic ATT right off the bat and everyone was having a really good time playing the games and sharing their Rose (positive thing of the day) and Thorn (one improvement or negative for the day.)
Because there was a lot we had to do today, and because during lunch I had an unfortunate incident where I bumped my drinks into the sneeze guards *twice* and got embarrassed by what happened, I was feeling socially/emotionally drained and needed to refresh before we did our Peer Leader Check-in for the night. To make up for recharge time, I got permission to not go to tonight’s Open Mic Night, so unfortunately I cannot report what happened or who performed, but I can still explain in the past what that’s been all about.
YLF invited a poetry group called “Flatline Poetry” to host their first Open Mic Night two years ago when I was first a delegate. They would introduce the night and tell the delegates they have the opportunity to perform for each other as an audience. They would have a sign up sheet, and each delegate or peer leader would line up and talk to one of the guys with hooking any device up to sound equipment if they wanted to sing. It ranges from that, to comedy, to skits, to dancing, and every other performance that they want to share. the two years I saw these, they were overall very successful, though last year one of the delegates decided to take over the show for about half an hour and it was a bit tedious to say the least.
Finally, to end our day, each peer leader gathered for the second of three times to check in about our progress and of how our day went.